I was pleased to recently attend Karen New Year celebrations in Balcatta, Western Australia. Over 300 members of the Karen community who have settled in Perth from Burma and refugee camps in Thailand came together to celebrate the day with song, dance, speeches and great food.
The community has celebrated New Year for centuries and it was traditionally held around the time of the first harvest in Burma. The New Year celebrations fall on a different day each year in line with phases of the moon and harvest time. The ethnic Karen community are mostly subsistence farmers in eastern Burma, in both the lowland rice-growing plains and hill regions, with large numbers in the central Irrawaddy Delta. However under the Burmese military government thousands have been forced off their land, persecuted and forced to flee.
In the mid-1930s whilst Burma was still under British rule, there was a push to create a Karen National Day in the country. This was unsuccessful in the parliament but a compromise was reached to recognise a single day as Karen New Year nationwide in 1938. Karen communities who have made their homes in other parts of the world continue to recognise the New Year as special day for the Karen people.
Perth’s Karen community is very active throughout Western Australia and it was pleasing to see such strong support from State and Federal politicians and community leaders at this year’s event.
The highlights of the day for me included learning more about the Karen culture, the traditional dancing and, of course, catching up with friends Beauty John, Paul Kyaw and all their families. Paul and Beauty are two of the people who shared their refugee stories in More to the Story. You can see more photos of the event on the Gallery page.
If you can’t find the book in book stores remember you can buy it from www.margaretriverpress.com.